“You gave me cancer?”
Tazla was incredulous upon hearing Eli explain to her what he had done to save her life and she wasn’t sure if she was supposed to be grateful or mortified. She eventually settled on the former. Although she had struggled to shake a persistent cough ever since she had awoken in sickbay and felt weaker than she had in a long time, the fact that those voices were no longer in her head and that she was still herself rather than a mindless Borg drone was reward enough to overlook that Katanga had given her one of the deadliest diseases known in history to keep her from turning into a cyborg.
“Not just any cancer,” said Eli with what could only be described as a smug smile on his face. “We’re talking about a mutated strand of adult T-cell lymphoma that metastasizes up to one hundred times faster than regular lymphoma. Think of it like cancer on steroids.”
Leeta handed her a glass of water she downed greedily, not realizing how thirsty she had been. It also immediately triggered another coughing fit that took her a moment to recover from. “So, what you’re saying is, that instead of becoming part of the Collective, I now have to look forward to wasting away to cancer?”
“What kind of quack do you take me for?” he said, his smile now gone and consulting a tricorder, scanning her from head to toe.
“Apparently one who injects his patients with deadly diseases.”
“It was quite a feat actually, considering how little time we had. But the virus and the nanoprobes in your system immediately went to war with each other inside your body and practically wiped each other out. There are still some traces of cancerous cells that remain but we’ll be able to neutralize them fairly easily with regular anti-cancer treatments. You won’t be back to full strength for a couple of days but, most importantly, you are one-hundred percent nanoprobe free,” he said and closed the tricorder with apparent satisfaction.
The doors to sickbay opened to allow Xylion to enter.
Tazla immediately focused on the approaching science officer. “Commander, what is the status of the Borg sphere?”
The Vulcan stepped up to the foot of her biobed and clasped his hands behind his back. “Lieutenant Nora and her away team were successful in deploying a tri-cobalt device inside the Borg sphere during your rescue. The sphere was subsequently destroyed.”
She nodded. “Clever.” She fought another cough she managed to dispel after a sip of water before she looked back at Xylion. “What’s our status?”
“Eagle has taken only minor damage in our encounter with the Borg, primarily due to the transphasic shield. We are currently en route to the hazard zone of the Moebius Cluster in order to impair any further pursuit.
Tazla sat up a little straighter on her bed. “First the Dominion and now the Borg. Please tell me there isn’t anyone else after us.”
He marginally shook his head. “We have not detected any other ships following us. I ordered the course change as a precautionary measure.”
Xylion considered Katanga. “Doctor, what is Commander Star’s condition?”
“Well, mostly thanks to some rather ingenious although admittedly radical treatment methods, I can safely say that our favorite Trill will eventually make a full recovery,” he said with a smile on his lips which, of course, was entirely lost on the Vulcan who merely responded with a raised eyebrow. “I suppose that means the ship will remain yours to command for the time being.”
“Indeed,” he said.
“Everybody stop talking like I’m not in the room,” Tazla said mildly annoyed. Yes, she felt weak and light-headed, but as far as she was concerned, as long as she was conscious and with the captain missing, she was in charge. “I’ll resume command as soon as I can get out of here.”
“That won’t be for a while, I’m afraid,” Katanga said.
“You just said I’ll make a full recovery.”
“I said eventually. Right now, your body is nowhere near full strength. You’ve gone from nearly being assimilated, to suffering a rapid form of cancer within a few hours. You should consider yourself lucky that you’re lucid enough to be able to string two coherent sentences together.”
She knew he was right. She had been a physician in her former life after all. And yet she found it enormously difficult to abdicate her responsibilities, even if only for a brief time.
“I should inform you that we have received what appears to be a coded message from the Captain,” Xylion said.
That made her jump up slightly. “What?”
Xylion continued calmly. “The message was sent on a very-low subspace band the computer initially disregarded as background noise. However, upon closer inspection, it seems clear that it is a message to us relaying a set of coordinates, possibly the Captain’s destination.”
“I really think you should have led with that,” she said, threw away her covers, and promptly tried to get out of bed. She found herself quickly stopped by Katanga, placing a firm hand on her shoulder and pinning her in place.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
She shot him an incredulous look but found herself mostly irritated that the octogenarian was keeping her in place effortlessly. She liked to think that it had less to do with his strength and everything with her current state. “You heard him. The Captain needs our help.”
He shook his head. “What I heard was that we believe we know where he’s going. And it doesn’t change the fact that you’re in no condition to return to duty.”
Her eyes took on a harder quality as she regarded him. “Eli, we’re talking about the possible fate of an entire universe. I can’t just lay here and--“
“That’s exactly what you’re going to do, my dear. Commander Xylion is more than capable to get us where we need to go. Now, get back into bed and start recovering. That’s an order. Unless, of course, you’d like me to get Lieutenant Nora back down here to keep you in line. She did seem quite concerned for your well-being.”
“The doctor is correct,” Xylion said.
“We agree on something?” Katanga said with mock-disbelieve. “Perhaps the universe is really coming to an end after all.”
“Not funny,” she said.
Xylion continued as if neither had spoken. “We will continue on our current heading toward the Moebius Cluster to ensure we are no longer being pursued and then order a course change for the coordinates we’ve received. I expect that we will arrive at that destination within five point three hours. That will provide us with sufficient time to reach the collider before we expect it to reactivate.”
“See, everything is well in hand,” he said with a smile, even while he pushed her back onto the bed. Once he was satisfied that she was staying put, his eyes found Xylion’s. “Commander, if there’s nothing else. I think we should leave Taz to rest now.”
“Keep me informed if anything changes,” she said.
He offered a brief nod and then left sickbay.
“At least let me get back to my quarters,” she said. “I don’t need to be in sickbay to recover.”
He considered her suspiciously but then began to nod. He retrieved a couple of small round devices, one of which he attached to her temple, the other to her chest. “I’ll keep monitoring your readings remotely. And don’t get any ideas, I’ll monitor the doors to your quarters as well. You try to leave and I’ll have half of security chase you down.”
She offered a grim smile in return. “You know what, Eli? I think you missed your calling. You should have become a jailer, not a doctor.”
There really was no escaping his clutches she realized when he had also insisted to have her escorted back to her quarters by a couple of medtechs who seemed as uncomfortable with their task as she was of being led across the ship by a medical entourage.
She did utter a sigh of relief once the doors closed behind her and she was alone in her quarters.
She had put on a brave face in front of Katanga and Xylion but she couldn’t deny how truly weak she still felt. And even worse, she had not been able to shake the memory of the pain and the sheer panic she had experienced when those Borg nanoprobes had been pumped into her body.
She had purposefully kept the scars of her emotional trauma from Katanga since the last thing she needed now was a mandatory trip to the counselor’s office but the truth was, the experience of nearly being assimilated had shaken her more than anything else she had gone through in recent memory.
She made a beeline for her bed and let herself fall into it.
Although there was little denying that she felt exhausted, she also quickly realized that her mind would not let her fall back asleep, not with all those errant and disturbing thoughts flying around within her head.
She got back up and headed for the refresher.
The face that greeted her in the mirror looked like a pale imitation of herself like somebody had tried to draw her features but given up halfway through the attempt.
She heard a voice coming from her living room.
She found Katanga standing in the dark room.
“Damn it, Eli, you’ve already got me practically locked up in here. I don’t need you to guard me as well,” she said, annoyed that he had entered her quarters unannounced.
He stepped closer and the starlight from the windows caught his face.
She froze when she realized that it didn’t belong to her long-time friend at all.
“Did you truly believe I would allow you to escape so easily?” said Tyrantus
She took a step back at seeing Katanga fully transform into the Borg who had abducted her. “How did you get on board?”
“It was not difficult to find you again,” he said as he continued to close in while she tried to maintain her distance. “You are part of the Collective now, Tazla Star.”
She shook her head. “No. The nanoprobes you injected me with are gone.”
“You can hear it. All our voices. They are within you.”
Her back hit the bulkhead and she had nowhere to go as he continued to bear down on her.
He was right. The voices were back. A billion Borg talking to her with a single voice inside her mind.
She reached for her head and screamed. “Make it stop.”
“It will never stop. You belong to us now,” he said and grabbed a fistful of her shirt and lifted her up along the wall until her feet were clear off the floor.
Tazla kicked hard against his right knee cap which caused him to lose his balance and his grip on her.
She went tumbling to the floor, a chair arresting her fall as it toppled over even as she went down.
Her victory was short-lived.
Tyrantus was back on top of her in an instant, slapping away her arms, a weak attempt to push him away, grabbing her once more, and throwing her right into the nearby glass coffee table that smashed to pieces under her weight.
This wasn’t the first time Tazla had tangled with a man possessing Michael Owens’s face, and while she had prevailed easily the last time, she simply did not have the strength to fight his Borg version.
As she tried to get back up she cut herself on the glass shards all around her but knew that this was the least of her problems right now.
She couldn’t win this fight and her only chance was to get away while she still could. Though dazed, she could see the doors to her quarters just a few meters away. If she could just get out into the corridors, she figured, perhaps she could get help.
She came up like in a runner’s stance, determined to dash for the exit.
Tyrantus had expected the move.
He intercepted her before she had even made it halfway there, slamming into her so hard, it felt like she had run into a wall of solid duranium.
Stunned, she stumbled backward and toward the other room.
In her state, it didn’t take him much effort at all to push her down onto her bed before he pinned her with the full weight of his body.
With zero strength remaining, she couldn’t stop him when he raised an arm and two narrow tubes emerged from his hand, snaking their way toward her neck and penetrating her skin.
“Resistance is futile.”
Her vision began to blur until she could no longer make out any shapes at all. That same agonizing fire she had felt on the Borg sphere once again filled her from the inside, threatening to burn her up as darkness began to claim her.
“No,” she screamed and pushed back with all she had, refusing to give in.
She managed to get back up into a sitting position just as her vision returned.
Tazla found herself in her bed, breathing hard and covered in sweat, alone.
She looked around and saw her quarters exactly the way they had been when she had entered them earlier.
“Godsdamnit,” she mumbled under her breath and let herself fall back onto the sweat-soaked sheets. “Maybe a counselor wouldn’t be the worst idea.”